3 Tips for Teachers to Help Students be More Conscious in Learning

by Julie “Jules” Troyer Ph.D.

I have often checked how conscious my students are through a simple little in-class experiment. Before a big test, I tell all the students, “I am feeling benevolent and I am going to give you one of the exam questions with the answer.” I check the statistics on the exam after all the students have completed it and invariably find, even when students are physically present in class….there are always a few that still miss the test question I gave the answer to. This illustrates a simple fact of learning: material must be attended to and encoded properly to be recalled.

A few techniques I use to enhance student attention and retention, uses some of the primary principles I have uncovered through the research in my Consciousness Lab and in-class observation.

1) Provide very visual examples. For example, if I am trying to illustrate a problem solving technique called “Hill Climbing” I ask all the students to close their eyes and envision the last time they went hiking. I encourage them to feel the ground beneath them, smell the fresh pine trees, and see the sunset creeping down the mountainside. This provides an “experience” tied to the learning phase. Experiences are what our minds register more readily than mere sterile information.

2) Remind students why they are in the class by asking them what career goals they hope to achieve by attaining a degree. Many people have difficulty making information meaningful because they do not see the long-term applications. Next, ask them why what they are learning could be beneficial in that career. Assisting students, in elaborating the usefulness of the material is helpful in the encoding process and makes remembering the material much easier.

3) Ask students to generate novel examples of the material; encouraging real-world examples from their personal lives. This provides many different types of examples and allows students to see how the material can be applied in many different aspects of life.

Where there is smoke there is not always fire.
Just because students say they are paying attention
does not always mean they really are.

I often wish there was a magical wand available from AMAZON that would allow students to always pay perfect attention and to be able to meaningfully connect all the material presented in class. Unfortunately, the magical wand has not been invented yet. Until then, techniques such as the one’s mentioned above increase the chances students will become more conscious in the classroom and improve their learning experience.

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  1. Kristi Register says:

    I have tried the “give an answer” technique with several of my elementary age classes, and was surprised the first year when several students did not get that question correct. I have found that some are just not attending to my words well enough to get the answer.

    Visualization with elementary students is very important. I have found that young children learn much better when they have that mental picture. I often tell them, especially in math to picture items in their head. My kindergarteners are currently working on addition, and I am teaching them to take the larger of the two addends and then count up in their heads using a visualization technique of seeing those items being added in their heads as opposed to using their fingers. I do not want them to become dependent on their fingers in addition and soon in subtraction.

    We also often discuss how we use what we are learning in our daily lives. I want my students to know that we go to school and learn for a reason and that we use the knowledge that we are obtaining each day, and I want them to know how we use that knowledge. We discuss how we use what we are learning. I frequently show them visual examples of how what they are learning helps them in their lives and also have them tell me how what they have learned can help them in their daily lives.

    If you find that magic wand from Amazon, let me know! I would love one!

    • Kristi,
      With so much of the human brain dedicated to visual processing it is no surprise that visualization assists tremendously in the encoding and retention process. Your choice to integrate visualization into your math lessons is stellar and the move to condition your students into internal computation instead of using external aids is setting them up for much quicker and more efficient processing in the future.

  2. Joseph Tassitano says:

    As a student whom struggles with adhd, paying attention in class can be exhausting. I can attest to the theory that these techniques work to keep students engaged, because it works for me. Many teachers either accept or ignore the fact that students lose attentiveness in class without doing anything to change it. Visualization has always been a successful technique for my memory retention. Articulating how the information at hand can be used in our degree is a great intrinsic motivator. Giving real world examples helps put the topic into a perspective that we can conceptualize. These are all techniques I will use when I begin teaching.

  3. Virginia Troyer says:

    I am in agreement with your Hill Climbing technique of tieing in experience with learning. I taught many students with limited “world” experiences and realized how important that was in so many aspects of teaching and learning.

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